Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 6, 1999 War in Freetown- Sierra Leone



January 6, 1999,  Was when  rebel forces entered Freetown and launched a campaign of terror. Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters systematically murdered, mutilated, and raped thousands of civilians. During the three weeks that it took for Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping troops to expel the rebels from Freetown, Sierra Leone officially became the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a journalist.

Life in FREETOWN-



It was often noisy at night. Because of the blackout and the danger outside, people were going to bed early. But the rebels wanted everybody to stay up late. They made bonfires of tires and fallen trees and sang songs in praise of the RUF, similar to the songs we Sierra Leoneans like to sing at football matches and weddings. At night they would move from house to house, forcing young men and women to come outside.

......

"The RUF saw all journalists as enemies, to be hunted down and killed. Rebel fighters murdered at least eight journalists--some together with family members, all of them brutally. A ninth was killed by soldiers of the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force (ECOMOG), and a 10th died in prison after the government denied him medical treatment.

The civil war began in 1991, when the RUF launched its first offensive from neighboring Liberia. Since then the independent press in Sierra Leone has faced harassment, threats, and censorship, often in the name of "national security." Journalists have been targeted by every party to the increasingly complicated conflict: civilian governments, various military juntas, rebel forces, ECOMOG peacekeepers, even South African mercenaries and traditional Sierra Leonean hunters, or Kamajors, who organized themselves into civilian guards in an effort to defend their villages against the rebels.

Both government and rebels fought to control Sierra Leone's lucrative diamond trade. In effect, the conflict seems rooted more in commerce than in ideology. In May 1997, I was living in Freetown and working as a free-lance reporter for the BBC and several other Western news organizations. On May 25, renegade soldiers and their RUF rebel allies seized power from the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. That was Sierra Leone's third coup in five years, and it ended the country's brief experiment with democracy. Sierra Leone's first democratically elected government in nearly three decades had lasted just over a year.

This was the most violent coup to date; it also marked the first time that the war had reached Freetown. All that day, mixed groups of soldiers and civilians shot their way into homes and offices. They wore a motley assortment of army fatigues and civilian clothing. Some sported World War II helmets, gas masks, and even Santa Claus hats. All carried AK47 assault rifles or rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They emerged laden with bed frames and cooking pots, video recorders and satellite dishes, which they loaded onto stolen pickup trucks.

Soldiers returned to my house eight times, growing increasingly drunk and aggressive as the day wore on. The rebels killed an estimated 50 people that first day. Many other people were attacked. Some, including foreigners, were raped." a journalist. express the pain he sow in Freetown on the very day.

A friend of mine in Sierra Leone stated that, on the  day By 7 a.m."there were rebels everywhere. A number of them looked like former Sierra Leone army soldiers, many of whom joined the ranks of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) after March 1998, when ECOMOG kicked out the most recent military junta. Some carried Russian AK-47 or NATO-standard G3 assault rifles, while others toted long, bulbous, rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They were gaunt and hungry-looking, with "cocaine plasters" on their faces.

RUF commanders spent some of their profits from the diamond trade on drugs. They would give their fighters cocaine for military operations, so that they would find it easier to kill and torture. Many of the fighters were adolescent boys. They used razor blades to cut small incisions in their faces and rubbed cocaine powder inside. Then they covered up the incisions with plasters. You would see RUF fighters greeting people perfectly normally when they weren't drugged. But during operations they would change completely. The drugs had a lot to do with it."

A journalist in Sierra Leone at that time said  Life in FREETOWN-

It was often noisy at night. Because of the blackout and the danger outside, people were going to bed early. But the rebels wanted everybody to stay up late. They made bonfires of tires and fallen trees and sang songs in praise of the RUF, similar to the songs we Sierra Leoneans like to sing at football matches and weddings. At night they would move from house to house, forcing young men and women to come outside. The rebels wanted civilians around them at all times, so that ECOMOG troops and fighter planes wouldn't be able to single them out. Despite their desire to kill and maim, the RUF fighters couldn't stand fighter jets: they would run and hide whenever they came overhead.

One night I heard the sound of an approaching car. It was a Peugeot 504 sedan, which we call a "familiar" car. It stopped about 200 meters from my hiding place, and six armed rebels got out. The driver then reversed and drove back to the main highway.

The rebels entered a construction site and started shooting in the air. I heard people screaming and weeping in the distance. After about two minutes of shooting they came out of the unfinished house and started banging on house doors. Nobody came out at first, but then the rebels shouted that they would kill anybody who stayed inside.

The first people to emerge were two men, who came out holding their hands above their heads. The rebels kept shouting, and in less than five minutes more than 40 people came out in the street. The rebels ordered them to sit on the ground with their hands on their heads.

One of the rebels was addressing them. I couldn't make out what he was saying. Suddenly I heard several guns being cocked simultaneously. But before the massacre could begin, a woman stood up and pleaded for mercy. She moved close to the rebel who was speaking. One of his colleagues rushed up and hit her with his gun, but she continued pleading. Then she shrieked as the speaker grabbed her protruding breast. He then ordered her to sit down, but in a gentle voice.

The rebels ordered all the women to follow them. They told the men to keep watch and report what they called "strange moves or attempts by the enemy." Then the rebels left. About 13 women followed their captors out of sight.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Loading